Westchester Legislators’ Democratic Caucus Members Concerned about Funding for Cultural Heritage Celebrations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 13, 2013

Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-419-5221 (cell)

Westchester Legislators’ Democratic Caucus Members Concerned about Funding for Cultural Heritage Celebrations

White Plains, NY – Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators reacted with some concern today as they learned that County Executive Rob Astorino, now in his fourth year of office, has found outside funding sources to pay for the ten ethnic and cultural heritage celebrations that take place annually at the Kensico Dam Plaza.

Astorino announced today that Friends of Parks will donate $25,000 to cover costs of tents, EMTs and sound production for the festivals, while the cultural organizations themselves will be picking up some of the $10,000 of the approximate cost of each festival. County police costs, estimated to be between $30,000 and $40,000 for the ten festivals, will apparently be absorbed in the Department of Public Safety operating budget.

For the past several years, the BOL has added $100,000 to the County Budget to pay for the festivals. Since he has been in office, Astorino has cut the funding for the festivals, and up until this past year, the BOL has been able to override Astorino’s veto of the BOL addition for the festivals to the budget. The festival were cut out of the Astorino’s 2013 Budget, though, and so there was some questions as to whether the festivals would even take place this year or not.

“The Board of Legislators has proudly supported the funding of the cultural heritage festivals each year because it understands the immense benefits that these events afford our county,” said BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah). “Westchester is comprised of a dynamic mosaic of people, and these events celebrate the unique aspects of different ethnic and racial groups while also serving to accentuate a positive understanding and appreciation for this diversity throughout the county.”

In some ways, Harckham noted, County Executive Astorino’s turnabout regarding the cultural heritage festivals is similar to his decision earlier this to fund food assistance and hunger relief programs that he’d originally cut from the budget, as well as his funding for the Charter Revision Commission and legal service for immigrants, after being nudged by the BOL and community leaders on the issues.

“Our cultural heritage festivals celebrate and honor all of Westchester County’s diversity, which is why the Board of Legislators has always supported them,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL Government Operations Committee. “Creative financing for public events may be able to help contain costs, but these public / private partnerships should be reflected in the open, transparent budget process from the start.”

“The investments in these wonderful cultural events at Kensico Dam make sense in so many ways, and I’m happy that the County Executive recognizes this,” said Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh). “If these events were not important, why would Mr. Astorino and his staff keep the funding in the budget this year? Obviously, much of the funding for the festivals has been buried elsewhere in the budget.”

At the BOL Budget & Appropriations Committee meeting today, chaired by Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), County Budget Director Lawrence Soule was asked to provide to the BOL all of the information regarding revenues and expenses for the cultural heritage festivals, as well as how much of the final costs will be borne by County departments and ultimately the taxpayers.

“This continues to be a pattern for the Astorino Administration,” said Myers. “Cut programs with theatrical flair, then show up suddenly to save the day later on. Our partners around Westchester —business owners, not-for-profit organizations and community leaders in cultural organizations—truly do not deserve this treatment.”

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=Bazzo 05/14/13

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